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Sarnia plant could help revolutionize bottled water industry

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Troy Shantz

A California startup hoping to transform the bottled water industry by producing a renewal bottle is building its steppingstone plant in Sarnia in part to capitalize on local expertise, its CEO says.

“One of the reasons why we picked Sarnia was because thelabour force is highly-skilled and knows how to do exactly the kind of stuff we’re doing,” said John Bissell, co-founder of Origin Materials.

John Bissell is the co-founder and CEO of Origin Materials. Photo courtesy, Jayson Carpenter/
John Bissell is the co-founder and CEO of Origin Materials.
Photo courtesy, Jayson Carpenter/

The company has developed a patented process that turns organic waste such as wood chips, wheat straw and corn stalks into a liquid compound called CMF, or chloromethylfurfural.

Construction of the commercial-scale demonstration facility in Sarnia is expected to begin “soon” and be fully operational by the end of 2018, Bissell said.

CMF is used to make PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, which until now has been petroleum-based. PET is widely used by the food and beverage industry to make water bottles, soft drink bottles and other packaging.

The world’s two largest bottled water companies, Nestle and Danone, have formed an alliance with the company to help develop an entirely bio-based bottle.

“(Origin’s) technology represents a scientific breakthrough for the sector, and the Alliance aims to make it available to the entire food and beverage industry,” the companies announced in Paris in March.

Also making an unspecified investment in the company is Bioindustrial Innovation Canada, a Sarnia-based agency that supports the commercial development of sustainable technologies.

Bissell said Origin developed its technology with help from scientists at the University of California, and then spent the next seven years scaling it up to commercial viability.

It’s anticipated the Sarnia plant will make 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes of CMF-related product a year.

Bissell said the city’s industrial infrastructure and human capital were big factors in the decision.

“The construction workforce is pretty exceptional in Sarnia,” he said. “The safety program for the chemical industry — that has essentially been deployed worldwide — was really started in Sarnia. And so there’s a reputation for world class construction and operation,” he said.

“That’s a big deal for us. We care a lot about that, especially for a first plant.”

Origin currently has about 50 employees. Bissell wouldn’t say how many new jobs will be created but noted the Sarnia plant once operational would employ “a significant portion” of the company’s overall workforce.

“There’s a lot of great chemical history tied up in Sarnia and I think that’s interesting. It makes it attractive to us.”


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